This weekend is a historic one in college lacrosse. It is the first weekend of Big Ten lacrosse. Lacrosse has been showing some great signs of growth recently. There's a D1 school in Kentucky, with Bellarmine now in their 11th year as a program. In 2010 Jacksonville University started a program, becoming the first D1 lacrosse teams in the state of Florida. Denver has become the sports official western outpost of sorts, having loads of success since Bill Tierney took over in 2009. And now the Big Ten, a Power 5 conference, has gotten in on the act. Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, and Johns Hopkins have forming the league. This weekend will see the first set of Big Ten games with Hopkins-Rutgers kicking it off on Saturday and Penn State-Ohio State and Maryland-Michigan taking place on Sunday.
Maryland and Michigan is of course our focus. The Terps have reeled off six wins in a row, outscoring opponents 68-28 in that span, averaging 11 goals per game and allowing just 4.6 goals per. This has included holding high-powered Princeton to a mere four, Villanova to just two, and North Carolina's highly skilled assassins on offense to only eight. Against Michigan they should be able to have themselves a day once again. If this D has had an issue against an offense this year - they really haven't; they're absolutely incredible - it was against Yale, an offense that primarily runs their sets from down low and uses a two man game with attackmen Conrad Oberbeck and Ben Reeves. Oberbeck in particular burned the Terps a couple times. Two of Michigan's top three scorers are midfielders, and it's not a particularly high-powered unit. They average 11 goals per and against teams with winning records that drops to just nine. Maryland's D should feel really good about their chances to hold another opponent to a minuscule number.
The key from Michigan's perspective, and therefore what Maryland will want to do to be able to really grab a hold of the game early on will be face-offs. Michigan doesn't play a very fast paced style, they're not very explosive, and will therefore want to have as many possessions as possible. Especially against Maryland's D. Those can come from other ways beside face-offs, but face-offs will be the best possible route.
Wolverine's FOGO - face-off get off - Brad Lott wins on average 53.57% of his draws. That's good for 33rd in the nation. Neither of those are bad, Lott's a pretty acceptable FOGO. Patrick McEwen's FOGO ratings which includes win%, standard deviation, home field advantage, and busts out an overall ranking ranks Lott 47th, which is in the back half of FOGO's. Not great. Charlie Raffa....ranks 1st. He wins 61.11% of his draws. He won a whopping 74% against Villanova and North Carolina. If Raffa can keep that up Maryland should be able to grab a stranglehold on the game early.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Maryland's win over North Carolina, and maybe what will be the biggest factor if Maryland is to win a national championship this season, is secondary scoring. Against Princeton and Villanova, Matt Rambo and Jay Carlson combined for 10 of the Terps 22 goals. Both of those guys are terrific players and you want them getting lots of goals. But teams know they're Maryland's best players. They will focus on them and attempt to cut them off. Particularly Rambo, Maryland's leading scorer this year with 21 points. The Terps will need different guys to step up, particularly from the midfield. Maryland hasn't had many terrific individual dodgers from midfield the last couple years with the exception of Mike Chanenchuk. That's where guys like Joe LoCascio and Colin Heacock come in. LoCascio is known for his incredible shot, but against UNC he scored five goals - a career high - and showed some real strong dodging. Heacock has that ability considering he's a converted attackmen and therefore has a versatile skillset. He had a hat trick against the Heels and added another against Robert Morris on Tuesday. Considering Michigan doesn't have many great lockdown defenders they'll look to shut off the Terps top attackmen in Rambo and Carlson. If LoCascio, Heacock, and also guys like Dylan Maltz can pose a threat...that's great for Sunday and the rest of the year.
Michigan is an improving program. They won just five games last year but have already won four this year. You can make a good case that they're the 5th, maybe even 4th best team in the Big Ten. And they're only a 4th year program. They've got some talent with guys like Ian King - King won't be playing on Sunday -, Mikie Schlosser, and Kyle Jackson. They're generally a young team as well and play with lots of energy. It wouldn't be shocking if in a few years the Wolverines are a dark horse contender in the B1G. But on Sunday Maryland has too much talent, too good a defense and should be able to put together a real strong performance en route an easy W.
The game will take place on Sunday at 5 PM. It will be broadcast live by the Big Ten Network. If you can't get to a TV, live stats will be available here: http://www.umterps.com/liveStats/liveStats.dbml?SPID=120711&DB_OEM_ID=29700&LIST_SPORT_KEY=M_LACROSSE